India-Pakistan: The Big Shift


May 19, 2009: The Pakistani Army expects their anti-Taliban campaign to have successfully concluded by the end Summer (three months). In a month of fighting, most of  the 4,000 Taliban fighters in the Swat Valley have been killed, wounded or fled the area. The army has lost fewer than a hundred dead, and about 400 casualties overall. More Taliban fighters have entered the valley to help defend the largest city, Mingora. But several Taliban bases in the valley have already been captured, and Mingora is not expected to remain under Taliban control for long. A major problem with this campaign are the refugees, nearly 1.5 million of them so far. The army tends to use warplanes (and helicopter gunships), artillery and long-range machine-gun fire, and this is dangerous for any civilians in the area. The Taliban likes to use civilians as human shields, and the civilians know it. Most of the refugees have found shelter with family or friends, but nearly 600,000 are in refugee camps.

The fighting in the tribal territories has unified the country against the tribal radicals (less than ten percent of the population, including fighters and their supporters.) Although the political parties still have their fundamental differences, the revulsion against the Taliban (and the tribal mayhem that has threatened the lowlanders in Punjab and Sind for thousands of years) is strong.

Five percent of Pakistanis are not Moslem, and Islamic radicals find it very easy to stir up violence against non-Moslems. It's also easier to extort cash from non-Moslems. The government is increasingly reluctant to use force to protect these minorities. At least a third of the population is enthusiastic about Islamic conservatism, and prone to support this kind of bias.

American UAVs are changing the way they operate along the Afghan border in Pakistan. In addition to seeking out al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, the UAVs are now attacking armed Taliban crossing the border. Every month, the number of UAVs available increase, and this provides more targets for the Hellfire missiles carried by Predator and Reaper aircraft. These UAVs spend most of their time seeking out targets, or confirming that a suspected target was, indeed, worth a missile.

The Pakistani Taliban are successful partly because they make it easier for young men to be religious, and bad ass bandits, all at the  same time. Banditry has long been a respected activity in the tribal areas. The Taliban are not the first time tribesmen have been organized to be bad guys in the name of God. But now the Taliban are sending gangs (20-40 young tribesmen) to cities (Karachi is a favorite) to join networks of Taliban gangsters who can get the new guys set up with a place to stay, and potential targets for criminal activities (extortion, robbery, kidnapping), before the guys go back to the tribal territories to raise hell. What's not to like? Well, sometimes the violence backfires. In Peshawar, the largest city in the tribal territories, the central government exercises a lot of control, but the Taliban resist that control with more violence. This includes one or more suicide bombs a week, which mainly kill civilians. The Taliban are not very popular because of these deaths. In cities like Karachi, the crime wave created by the Taliban, and al Qaeda terrorists who also show up, has led to more informers. Even Islamic conservatives will turn in these Islamic radicals, because the terrorism tends to kill the religious and secular alike.

Meanwhile, Indian continues to have problems with its own tribal rebels in the northeast, and Maoist political radical in the east. But these are small compared to the violence in Pakistan.

May 17, 2009: Recent elections in Indian Kashmir, where most of the voters are Moslem, separatist candidates lost big. Becoming part of Pakistan, or part of an independent Moslem state, is no longer seen as desirable.

May 15, 2009: In Pakistan's Swat Valley, the Taliban have prepared the largest city, Mingora, for a battle with the army. The Taliban have dug trenches, turned some buildings into bunkers and planted mines. There are still believed to be 100,000 civilians (about half the normal population) in the city.

May 13, 2009: Pakistan has ordered additional army brigades to move into the tribal territories, for an offensive next month against the most pro-Taliban area there; Waziristan. Meanwhile, 15,000 Pakistani troops are battling 4,000 Taliban in the Swat valley. There are believed to be more than twice as many armed Taliban in Waziristan. For the first time in its history, the Pakistani military is shifting most of its strength away from Indian, and towards the rebellious Pushtun tribesmen along the Afghan border.




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